TV: Barbara Ellen’s 10 best shows of 2023

<span>Photograph: HBO</span>
Photograph: HBO

1. Succession
Sky Atlantic; April

The fourth and final season of Jesse Armstrong’s withering, witty evisceration of stateside mega wealth. A note-perfect farewell to Brian Cox’s sharkish patriarch, Logan Roy, “the kids” and their suited parasites. With this shattering swan song, Succession secured its place among the greatest television ever made.

2. Beef
Netflix; April
In a bumper year for innovation, from Korean satire Bargain to amateur philanthropy sendup The Curse, off-kilter drama Beef, starring Ali Wong and Steven Yeun, still stood out. Viewers marvelled as a California road rage incident escalated into a feuding, audacious, clawingly funny 21st-century fever dream.

3. The Bear
Disney+; July

Leading the pack of strong returning series (The Newsreader; Slow Horses; Time) came dysfunctional US culinary saga The Bear. Revisiting chef Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) and his kitchen misfits, here was another piquant serving of sweet, salty, sour, and every other emotion a drama could need.

4. Colin from Accounts
BBC Two; April

Created by and starring Patrick Brammall and Harriet Dyer, the Australian comedy featured a brewer, a “sleep-weeing” student doctor and a dog on wheels. In a vibrant comedy year (a special nod to Mawaan Rizwan’s surrealist tour de force Juice), Colin from Accounts evolved into a (warm, playful, distinctive) sleeper hit.

5. The Gold
BBC One; February

Sometimes true crime drama arrives buffed to a shine. Sarah Phelps’s The Sixth Commandment lent quiet dignity to the real-life tragedy of gaslit retired English master Peter Farquhar (Timothy Spall), and then there was The Gold. Starring Jack Lowden, based on the 1983 £26m Brink’s-Mat bullion robbery, it turned into one of the year’s most exciting dramas, executed with light, shade and spirit.

6. Happy Valley
BBC One; January

The final instalment of Sally Wainwright’s West Yorkshire piece de resistance. A long, tough goodbye to the ever-formidable Sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) as she pursued her nemesis, Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton). Nerve-shredding magic.

7. The Last of Us
Sky Atlantic; January

This video game-inspired post-apocalyptic thriller, created by Craig Mazin (Chernobyl), starred Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey as fellow travellers in a devastated, fungus-ridden future world. Equal parts tender and brutal, this was where human met dystopian.

8. Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland
BBC Two; May

Before 2023 turned into celeb-doc central (Beckham; Robbie Williams; Coleen Rooney: The Real Wagatha Story), there was this scrupulous recounting of the Northern Irish Troubles. From James Bluemel (Once Upon a Time in Iraq), it delivered a pitiless, intimate masterclass in social history.

9. Top Boy
Netflix; September

The last outing for Ronan Bennett’s drug-soaked inner-city drama. With its own language, laws, drug-lord “kings” (played by Ashley Walters and Kane Robinson), triumphs and tragedies, Top Boy stayed tight and true to the gut-wrenching end.

10. I’m a Virgo
Amazon Prime Video; June

The trippiest TV moment of the year was “Ghost Diana” in the final season of The Crown. A close second was Boots Riley’s absurdist US comedy I’m a Virgo, starring Jharrel Jerome as a 13ft innocent navigating a cruel world. Complex, conceptual, eye-popping (there’s a sex scene you won’t be able to un-see), big messages lurked in the subtext.